by Stan Sakai adapted by Stewart Melton.
Southwark Playhouse (The Large) To 4 January 2014.
Wed; Fri-Sun 2.30pm.
7pm Fri, Sat 7pm.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 December.
Slaughter of the innocents replaced by saving of innocents in imaginative choice of seasonal show.
Where do you take the young, 7+, theatregoer who has everything, Christmas story-wise? To Southwark Playhouse, it seems, where the larger performance space spends the period with a story that is the usual Christmas fare. Except that it’s set halfway round the world, 17 centuries later and replaces donkey, ox and ass with a rabbit. Who’s also something of a samurai.
When Stan Sakai began his comic-book stories thirty years ago he didn’t, apparently, intend them to be about a rabbit, just a ronin, a samurai whose master had departed, but who had failed to do the honourable thing by committing seppuku (or ‘hara kiri’). Instead, like many ronin, such as the samurai in Akira Kurosawa’s film of the name, he became a ‘yojimbo’ (bodyguard).
But Sakai was working on a comic-book, which means drawing, which almost inevitably leads to doodles. And so, somehow, elongated ears appeared and the rabbit (‘usagi’)-hero Miyamoto Usagi was created, replacing the originally-intended historical human model, Miyamoto Musashi.
Though Jonathan Raggett is tricked out with rabbit make-up and ears, the emphasis in this piece is on action and swordplay, while the play’s origins are reflected in projected comic-book illustrations. Yet, mainly, the stage space is left bare to accommodate fight scenes, while Joji Hirota’s percussive score, with sound effects added and played visibly on stage, underlines the physicality.
Which is the kind that has long been familiar to audiences through the Westerns on which Kurosawa based several of his films. They fit as comfortably one side of the world as another, with the young samurai earning his spurs then returning home to put his martial skills to prevent his family being robbed of their home by marauding bad guys, A story with moral purpose combines with that of a young man achieving his potential through a long, demanding process.
And once he has achieved the skills of swordsmanship, and moral awareness, he is cast away summarily by his master. There are lessons to learn about life, and lessons about learning about life, along with the flash of weaponry expertly executed in Amy Draper’s high-energy production.
Performers: Joji Hirota, Amy Ip, Haruka Kuroda, Siu-Hun Li, Jonathan Raggett, Dai Tabuchi.
Director: Amy Draper.
Designer: Ele Slade.
Lighting: Joshua Pharo.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Projections: Nina Dunn.
Fight director: Ronin Traynor.
Assistant director: Steph de Whalley.
Associate lighting: Sarah Readman.